I was deeply moved recently by the suicides of Professor Bongani Mayosi and Khesani Maseko. Professor Mayosi was the dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of Cape Town, and Khesani, a third-year BA student of law at Rhodes University. I find it deeply disturbing that these two incredibly gifted and talented human beings had lost all hope.
Their deaths and the tributes that I read in the media, prompted me to ask myself some questions about the true nature of the most frequently asked question, "How are you?" and the extent to which we REALLY care about each other. How well prepared are we for the unexpected reply," I'm not doing well " and how many of us are prepared to take the time to stop and listen? How good are we at noticing the other person's body language? How many times have we ourselves uttered the well-rehearsed, "I'm fine," when we're actually not?
Most of us are reluctant to drop our masks and appear anything other than fine, either because we don't know the person well enough, or because we don't want to burden them with our problems. What if we were to begin acknowledging that we are all connected and that we do actually need each other? Possibly, now more than ever. What if we were to start asking for, and accepting help from others? What if we were to have the courage to admit that we're struggling with an aspect of our lives? There seems to be so much pressure on us to be "superhuman," that it seems as if we've forgotten how to be fundamentally "human."
Perhaps the time has come for us to replace this polite, ritualised greeting with something else. My challenge is that we explore ways in which we could substitute this frequently asked question with a different one, and then observe with great interest the responses we receive. Let us also examine our own intentions. If we are not genuinely interested in how someone is, or if we do not have the time to talk to them, then why ask how they are?
Let us try to listen more attentively to others and remember a few details about their lives. It will mean so much to them. Most of us are so preoccupied with our own lives, that we forget that even a smile can bring a little joy to someone who is feeling sad, lonely or despondent. Wouldn't it be great if we paid closer attention to the needs of others and gave more generously of our time, talents and resources? Let us refrain from making assumptions about people who appear "to have it all" and work harder at noticing when they are feeling down.
" It's a sad state of affairs when we live amongst others who could benefit from our care and concern, who are suffering in silence, and to whom we do not respond. Helping doesn't only mean solving another person's problems. We can help by demonstrating compassion and offering support and hope to others in need."
If we truly desire to make a difference in the lives of others, one way in which we could do that is to slow down and take the time to make ourselves available for what could turn out be a life-changing conversation.
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